June 27, 2005

Cort’s and Floris’s Virtues

Revisiting an online exhibition of Mannerist engravings (previously mentioned here), I was struck by one particular series of eight prints depicting the Virtues. Elsewhere, I’ve oftenest seen Virtues collected in threes, fours, sevens or dozens, so perhaps this set is a composite, or is incomplete, or is intended in some way to correspond with the eight Beatitudes. Or maybe it’s just an idiosyncratic collection. They were the work of an Antwerp-based engraver called Cornelis Cort, who had produced them from original designs by the painter Frans Floris. A little more looking around led me to a better set of reproductions of all but one of these images, as presented at the University of Liège’s ‘Florilège’ site. Details from these images follow below: click on them to see them in full.

Detail from 'Intelligentia,' engraving by Cornelis Cort (ca. 1560) after a design by Frans Floris.

It is thought that this series was published in Antwerp in 1560, by Hieronymous Cock (who was also, as I’ve noted recently, Pieter Bruegel’s usual publisher). Each print presents us with a female personification of a particular virtue, accompanied by some kind of beast, fish, or fowl: a serpent coils around the feet of Intelligence; a large fish with decidedly canine features lies under Sobriety’s feet; a greyhound looks up to Memory; a falcon rests on the branch of a tree held by Concord; a lion lies under Magnanimity’s skirts; while Chastity holds on to a heron, and Perseverance grapples with a large fish, perhaps a salmon.

Detail from 'Sobrietas,' engraving by Cornelis Cort (ca. 1560) after a design by Frans Floris.
Detail from 'Memoria,' engraving by Cornelis Cort (ca. 1560) after a design by Frans Floris.

Frans Floris (1520-1570), more properly called Frans de Vriendt, was born into to an artistically-inclined Antwerp family. His father had been a stonecutter, and his brothers Cornelis, Jan and Jacques (or Jacob) all became artists too. Frans studied in Liège, and later travelled in Italy, before returining to Flanders ca. 1540. He established a busy workshop which turned out a large number of Italian-influenced ‘pictures for the country houses of Spanish nobles and the villas of Antwerp patricians.’ The wikipedia article on Floris (lifted from the 1911 Britannica) is all disapproval & disdain, and suggests that most of his output was decorative hack-work. Even so, some of his paintings, such as his panel The Fall of the Rebel Angels are none too shabby.

Detail from 'Concordia,' engraving by Cornelis Cort (ca. 1560) after a design by Frans Floris.

Cornelis Cort (1536-1578) was a Dutch-born engraver who studied under Hieronymous Cock in Antwerp. Like Floris, he travelled to Italy, and was greatly influenced by Italian painting. On his first visit to Venice, Titian hired him to produce engraved versions of several of his drawings. Cort later settled in Rome, where he collaborated with some of that city’s most eminent painters, among them Girolamo Muziano, Federico Zuccaro and Giulio Clovio. He also made engravings after Raphael’s paintings.

Detail from 'Magnanimitas,' engraving by Cornelis Cort (ca. 1560) after a design by Frans Floris.
Detail from 'Castitas,' engraving by Cornelis Cort (ca. 1560) after a design by Frans Floris.

Such contrived pictorial allegories seem remote from the preoccupations of contemporary art, but there are at least two notable 20th-Century artists whose work has some affinity with images like these. A recent Guggenheim exhibition has juxtaposed a number of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs with prints by Goltzius, Jan Harmensz, Jacob Matham, and others, although it is unclear from the exhibition’s promotional notes whether the likeness between them is due to influence, or accident.

Detail from 'Perseverantia,' engraving by Cornelis Cort (ca. 1560) after a design by Frans Floris.

And, Georg Baselitz has been collecting Mannerist prints since the mid ’60s, seeing in them a ‘kind of engraving that distanced itself completely from reproductive engraving, which didn’t respect its spatial layering, the space of the picture plane, but instead was almost ornamental, in an unconventional way—practically typographically ornamental.’

Posted by misteraitch at June 27, 2005 12:05 PM